The Unsurprising Incarnation

I continue to be amazed by the humility of God in the storyline of Scripture. God persistently comes low to engage his creatures. His chosen vehicles of self-disclosure are always understandable and meaningful to humanity. Whether he is walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, wrestling with Jacob in human form, or having a conversation with Moses face to face, God’s revelatory activity is marked by condescension.

This is not surprising as humility is fundamental to the life of the Triune community. It is the warp and woof, the lifeblood, indeed, the cardinal principal that orders the life of God. God the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally humble in their engagement with one another. Every exchange among the three persons is executed with a posture of humility. God’s life is a dance of three persons striving to outdo one another in honor. When the Triune God engages the world we would expect to see the same thing, and we do.

The manner of revelatory activity in the Old Testament prepares the reader for a humble Christ. The larger canonical context leads us to read the incarnation as “normative” divine activity. In many ways, the incarnation is the logical next step in the Triune God’s self-disclosure. Don’t misunderstand me, the incarnation is astonishing and overwhelming. My point is that incarnation should not be considered “abnormal” activity for the humble Creator. It is consistent with who God is and how he has revealed himself throughout redemptive history.

The incarnation serves to reinforce and deepen our understanding of the humility of God. It serves as a link to all past revelation and yet is a clear and drastic move forward in God’s self-disclosure. God the Son permanently takes to himself humanity. The life of God can never be the same! The more God shows us himself the more overwhelmed we become by the depth of his humility.

The humility of the incarnation prepares the way for the humility of the cross. N.T. Wright captures the trajectory of the thought we have been tracing as he talks about the cross. God does not show us something new about himself, He simply continues to show us who He is.

“God became on the cross what God always was. I may have it in me, in ability and desire, to climb Mount Everest; but until I actually go into training and do it it remains latent. You may have it in you to be a brilliant concert pianist; but until you get down to practice and performance, all that brilliance remains latent. God always was the God of love—generous, spontaneous, free and cheerful self-giving love; but until God, if we dare put it like this, gets down to practice and performance, that love at its deepest level remains latent. On the cross God performs the score composed before the foundation of the world. On the cross God at last scales the highest peaks. It isn’t just that the cross reveals God’s love in its most striking way. It reveals it because it enacts it. It becomes part of, indeed the most central part of, the personal history of God…And now, to all eternity, the cross remains at the heart of God, stands as the truest symbol of God, offers the most exact and precise exposition of God.” [1]

[1] N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 56-57.

The God on his Knees

Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the most well known passages in the Pauline letters. I have been intrigued by the vision of God that is given in this passage. Here is the text for you to read and the following is a meditation on the humility of God.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This text is phenomenal. Paul is showing us that humility is central to the character of God.  Here we see a God who gets underneath his creatures to serve them. A God who actually considers his creatures more important than himself. A God who genuinely looks out for our interests above his own. Stunning!

This text points us to the reality that Jesus is God’s chosen self-disclosure. If you want to know what God is like you must look to Jesus. This is implicit in the text. It is explicit elsewhere. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus has explained God to the world. He has led him out from behind the curtain for all to see.

Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”  When you look at Jesus you see God.And when we do look at Jesus, what do we see?

We see a humble man serving us with great humility and sacrifice at every turn. The text maps out the humble journey of the Son of God. At each critical juncture, we see humility embodied and explained. I want to highlight three junctures in the journey of Jesus: the crib, the cross, and the crown. All three of this junctures are marked by humility.

The Crib


In verses 3 and 4 the text reads, “in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also the interest of others.” Paul tells us that this was precisely the mindset of Jesus. It was his frame of mind when he agreed with the Father to come into this world and become a man.

As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less about yourself, but thinking about yourself less.” It is the freedom of self-forgetfulness and the joy of throwing yourself into the service of others. This is what characterizes the life of God.

Verse 6 is quite incredible, “although he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus was fully equal with God. But he did not use his divine status as an excuse to remove himself from our need. He did not cling to his exalted position instead he used it for our good. “He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

One author explains the significance of this statement as follows: “The decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine.” In other words, the fact that Jesus refused to remain in heaven speaks volumes about God. This is a God who uses all of his divine resources to serve and save us!

In Jesus we behold a God in the crib. A God so humble that he was willing to become a child. He was willing to be clothed and fed by a mother. He was willing to learn to crawl, talk, and dress himself—so that one day he could put himself on a piece of wood and die for us!

The Cross


Paul tells us in verse 8 that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

This is the climax of humble service. Everything in the life of Jesus was building to this moment. As Luther once said, “The cross and crib are cut from the same wood.” The cross was just the next stage in his humble service toward us. But the cross changes everything. The definition of humility was forever altered after the Son of God was hung upon a tree for you and me. Who is this God?

Hearers of this message in Paul’s day would have been absolutely stunned that any deity would be connected to humility and more than that a cross. Humility was not a virtue for the roman gods; it was a weakness. Augustine was adamant that you would not find the quality of humility ever attributed to any other so called god. This was a virtue that belonged exclusively to Jesus Christ.

A cross was even crazier—many thought that the early Christians were “mad” for worshipping a God that had been crucified. Crucifixion was the ultimate shameful death—how could you claim that a god could ever be crucified and even more how could you ever worship such a weak and helpless god?

The truth, however, is that the cross is the greatest display of humble love the world has ever known. It expresses to us that we have a God who was literally humbled to death for our sake! A God who was swallowed by death in order to destroy it from the inside—for us!

Luther says, “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.” Why? Because this is his glory! The God who comes low and took on death to demonstrate the depth of his concern—this is glory.

Without a humble God we could not be saved. Augustine said “there would be no salvation for us if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes.” The humility of Jesus is a saving humility. He is not just showing us the way of humility. He is saving us by his humility.

The Crown


Paul tells us that this humiliation takes a turn to exaltation. God highly exalts him and gives him a name above all names. And it is at this name that every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Even here the glory of humility is evident. It is the humility of God that brings us to our knees in adoration. When we behold the stunning and unexpected glory of humility, we ourselves are humbled. God crushes us with his kindness—it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. I believe this is just another dimension or angle on his humility.

When the Son is exalted what does he do in heaven as he sits at the right hand of God enthroned? The book of Hebrews and the book of Romans both tell us that he does not sit on his throne much—instead we find him on his knees interceding and praying for us! This is how he reigns from heaven—with sacrificial concern and service.

When we look at Jesus we behold a God on his knees. Crawling as a baby. Falling to his knees as he carries the cross. On his knees in prayer as our King. The glory of his humility is blinding. He considers us as more important than himself and proves it by giving his own life for our sake. Such humility beckons us—calls us to worship. It calls us to join God on our knees. If we serve a God who is comfortable on his knees then surely that is where we will meet with him.

Gospel and Vocation

Like any other doctrine, vocation must be brought into dialogue with the gospel to grasp its depths and beauty. I have chosen only a few conversation points between them. I want to look at vocation through a Trinitarian lens, gospel shaped vocation, and gospel need in vocation.

The Vocation of the Triune God


When we speak of God we speak of a Triune Being. God the Father, Son, and Spirit—one God in three distinct persons. Vocation is an idea rooted in the Trinity. God takes upon himself various roles in his engagement with the world. These roles fall underneath the categories of creation and salvation. The biblical narrative is clear that the Triune God engages his tasks with the utmost zeal, precision, and efficacy. A brief look at each of the three persons in action will shed light on the vocational God.
The Father
God the Father is the architect of creation. He is attributed with the design and execution of all that has been made. In the first few chapters of Genesis we observe a God who creates with skill, power, creativity, and joy.  In salvation, the Father continues in his role as the designer. To him belongs the plan of salvation. He plans, promises, elects, and sends the Son and Spirit in this work. In each of these areas he is filled with grace and intentionality. His work of salvation is as perfect as his work of creation.
The Spirit
The Spirit plays a vital role in creation. He hovers over the unformed world and breathes life into it. He gives and sustains life. He is the life source for all created beings. In the work of salvation he continues to be the life-giver. He empowers the sent Son to accomplish his saving task. He then is sent by the Son and Father to breathe regenerative life into those trusting the gospel. He sustains new life in people and conforms them into the image of the Son. The Holy Spirit is a mighty laborer who fulfills his tasks with passion and care. 
The Son
The Son is the “word” of God in creation. He is the means through which all things are created. He is God’s mediator. He is also the mediator of salvation. He is sent by the Father to bring his salvation plan to fruition. The Son is said to be the clearest revelation of God. He vividly reveals the vocational God. As the God-man, he also reveals how humans are to engage vocation. In other words, Jesus is the cardinal figure for understanding divine and human vocation.
The short statements about his childhood reveal something of the vocation of children. They are called to obey and honor their parents. They are called to schooling and learning. They are called to serve God above all else. In his later years, we learn that he followed in the footsteps of Joseph and worked as a carpenter. I imagine he engaged his task the same way he worked with his Father in fashioning the earth. The divine work ethic revealed in creation was surely manifest in Christ. It definitely was in his ministry.
In his ministry Jesus took on many roles. He was a teacher, preacher, healer, miracle worker, friend, and ultimately a Savior. His greatest work occurred at a cross and a tomb outside of Jerusalem. God punched the clock before he carried the cross to Golgotha. He was still on the clock when he strolled out of the grave and defeated death. Oswald Bayer hits it on the head when he connects divine vocation to creation and cross. 
“The common rule is: ‘God gives you office that you may serve.’ God’s action is determined by his self-proffering love, which seeks the lost and the fallen. For to Luther God himself, when he is described as Creator, becomes utterly like a human being faithful to his vocation, who gives himself to the lowly. God creates out of nothing, i.e. gives heed to the helpless who are at the point of death. In the crucifixion of Christ on Golgotha, he who was despised by the world showed himself a true Creator, one who makes his costliest work out of that which is nothing.”
The upshot of this is that divine vocation comes to a head in the gospel. In the gospel we see the most vivid demonstration of God fulfilling his role as Creator and Savior. Therefore the gospel is the richest resource for understanding vocation.
The Gospel Shape of Vocation


The gospel is the blueprint for our vocational endeavors. In it we learn these valuable lessons that should translate into our various stations in life.Vocational identity shifts throughout the seasons of our lives
  • Vocation is earthly, normal, and gloriously mundane
  • Vocation is the means by which we love and serve others
  • Vocation is to be engaged with whole hearted excellence
  • Vocation requires suffering, sacrifice, and pain
Vocation Drives us to the Gospel


The gospel shapes vocation, but it also supports us as we engage vocation. As we noted in the last post, our stations in life have a way of exposing our sinful tendencies. We also recognize that though we try our best to execute our vocations with integrity, faithfulness, and selflessness, we fall short of that quite often. We recognize that the gospel example is impossible to follow with our own resources. This is where God uses the gospel standard to drive us back to the gospel promise.
Gospel shaped vocation requires continual gospel support. God’s grace is woven through every facet of vocation. In his vocational activity he rescues us and provides the pattern for our callings. He then undergirds us in our endeavors by gospel strength and cleansing.